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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Pakistani Taliban Elects New, Worse Leader

After the death of Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone strike last week, the Pakistani Taliban has chosen Mullah Fazlullah as their new leader. Even by the Taliban’s standards, he is an extremist hardliner, committed to overthrowing the Pakistani state and notorious for ordering the murder of the schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai. While his predecessor oversaw tentative peace talks, those are now off the table, as Fazlullah is “against negotiations with the Pakistan government.” In fact, his main rival likely lost the election due to his “soft corner for the [Pakistani] government,” which the Pakistani Taliban views as a US puppet state that is complicit in the drone strikes.

Perhaps most alarming for Pakistan is Fazlullah’s continued influence in the Swat Valley and his active bases of operations in the neighboring Afghan provinces of Konar and Nuristan, where the Afghan government has minimal control. Pakistan is currently bracing for reprisal attacks.

Shell Accused of Lying about Oil Spills

Amnesty International has accused Shell of manipulating oil spill investigations and documents to avoid paying compensation to local communities and making false claims about its environmental impact in the Niger delta. There are several hundred oil spills a year in the Niger delta, many of which involve Shell pipelines. The report offers detailed analysis to support its charges that oil companies often blame these spills on sabotage, when they are actually due to corrosion or other faults in aging pipelines. If a spill is caused by sabotage, the local communities affected are not eligible for compensation.

Furthermore, the report claims that Shell lied about whether it had properly decommissioned its abandoned facilities and repeatedly under-recorded the volume of oil shed in spills – in one case, claiming 60 times less oil had been spilled than other evidence indicates.

EU Court Rules Homosexuality Grounds for Asylum

The EU’s high court in Luxembourg ruled today that refugees who face persecution in their home countries because of their sexual orientation have the right to asylum. The case was brought by three gay men from Sierra Leone, Uganda and Senegal – three countries where homosexuality is a prosecutable crime with serious punishments – after being denied refugee status in the Netherlands. The EU high court rejected the notion that a gay person could be expected to “conceal” their homosexuality and that anti-homosexuality laws mean that gays and lesbians constitute a “social group” targeted by authorities, in accordance with the Geneva Convention on refugees’ rights.

Guantanamo News

Al Jazeera has obtained a copy of the diaries of Abu Zubaydah, one of Guantanamo’s highest-value detainees. The diaries are the sole evidence the US government has to back its claims that he was a high-level al-Qaeda operative – claims that have been repeatedly questioned and that the diaries may not support. They have also been used to justify the detention of others in Guantanamo. Most troubling, Zubaydah’s final three journals detail the torture he suffered at a CIA black site (some of which is confirmed in a Justice Department memo). Aside from being awful and illegal, torture permanently changes the way the body responds to pain, and can cause it to continue to damage itself for decades.

In more hopeful news, a military judge lifted the restrictions on defense lawyers’ communications with detainees, allowing them to communicate by mail on any topic relating to the case. He also ordered the US government to hand over correspondence on Guantanamo prison conditions.

Fukushima Cleanup Enters Critical Phase

Tokyo Electric Power is preparing to begin removing more than 1,500 nuclear fuel rods from one of the destroyed reactor buildings. Moving the rods is an essential step towards stabilizing the site, but a dangerous one. The rods are over four yards long and contain pellets of uranium fuel, no one knows whether any rods have been damaged and therefore likely to leak. Additionally, they will have to be transported in watertight casks – any contact with the air risks overheating and triggering a release that could spread the contamination. The removal process will likely take years.

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